By Mike Haseler
A few years ago I spent perhaps as much as a whole year researching the identity of the "Kelts". I came to a very clear conclusion. There was no way on earth that the Irish, Welsh or Scots were "Celts". It was simply absurd nonsense from the same stable as the "Aryan" origins of the German Nazi race.
However whilst the evidence that the fringes of Britain were not Keltic is very clear, I had hoped to give a fuller explanation. Almost a decade has passed since I started looking and even a two year archaeology course did not tease out the last areas of doubt - but if anything I am now very clear about what I do not know.
But worse, I felt I had to really create a concrete case before going public, because either it would have holes and I would be ignored, or it would stand the test of time and would upset virtually every archaeologist.
However, that excuse disappeared when I found a book "The origins of the British" by Stephen Oppenheimer, that has many of the same ideas. (derived completely independently) The book is mainly about the DNA evidence of peoples in Britain but it has a good introduction chapter on the "Celts" which I will try to summarise below.
"The origins of the British" by Stephen Oppenheimer
Most people in Britain believe the original inhabitants of Britain were the "Celts". But this picture has been built up over the years.The 1913 Webster Dictionary defined Celt thus:
Celt ... One of an ancient race of people, who formerly inhabited a great part of Central and Western Europe, and whose descendants at the present day occupy Ireland, Wales, the Highlands of Scotland and the Northern Shores of France.
But this is different from the previous dictionary which described them as "One of the primitive inhabitants of the South of Europe". But note the interesting change in European territory reflecting a 19th century move in concept toward a homeland in central Europe.
The Greeks and Romans used the words Keltoi and Celtae but they never mentioned any connection with the British Isles. [There are many references to the tribes and peoples of Britain. None of them refer to a Celtic origin].
Language is seen as extremely important in modern perceptions of a celtic identity and ethnicity. By Celtic they mean the group of languages modern linguists refer to as "Celtic". [A nice circular argument]. The languages are so called "Q-Celtic" Irish and Scots Gaelic and so called "P-Celtic" Welsh, Breton, Cornish. But this view of a Celtic language is at odds with the classical view.
As Oppernheimer puts it there is "potential doubt" that modern celtic languages have anything to do with the Kelts.
There is clear evidence [from classical accounts] of the Celtic language [whatever it is] being spoken in parts of France, Northern Italy and Spain. There is no such evidence for the Celtic tongue being spoken in either the assumed homeland in central Europe nor in the present day "Celtic" areas on the fringes of Britain. "So if prehistorians and linguists of the last 150 years wanted to find a convincing homeland for Celtic languages, why on earth were they looking in central Europe, rather than south west Europe?" The answer is that Herodotus when locating the area of the Kelts, mistakenly thought the Danube arose near the Pyrenees and when the origin was correctly located in Germany, the (supposed) homeland of the Kelts was also transposed to this region.
"Debunking the myth of the Central European Celtic linguistic and cultural homeland is a long overdue task"
One person responsible for this myth was one Edward Lhuyd who was an early Welsh Nationionlist. Whilst translating a book written by a French author on the "Celtae or Gauls", he added in English the words: "Taken to be Originally the same People as our Ancient Britains". This clearly extended the meaning well beyond that given by the Roman Writers to which they were referring. The less obvious assumption was that all "Ancient Britons" including those previously living in England celtic speaking [and also that they were one ethnic group].
During Victorian times major discoveries in Mainland Europe were ascribed with considerable "confidence" [arrogance] to the Celts or Gauls. Oppenheimer is referring to the Halllstatt and La Tene culture. The reality is that little was known of the tribes in this area from this period. The Kelts and a handful of others were the only names for all the peoples from Russia to France. So when people tried to answer the question: "who were they?", they grasped at the only possible labels and tried to use these even though they were clearly inappropriate by modern standards. Again on the grounds of date and geographical location, these remains were identified with the Celts or Gauls which classical accounts reported had poured into Italy around 400BC.
Next Oppenheimer begins examining texts referring to the "Tin Isles" and "further north" to the Celts. If as many suggest the Tin Isles are Cornwall, so the "Celts" would be northward somewhere up the West Coast of Britain.
... Away from the Oestrimnides [tin isles], under the Northern Sky, he comes to the Ligurian Land, deserted by its people: or it has been emptied by the power of the Celts
The freezing mountainous country described would fit Scotland, which would link the Scots to the Celts, however numerous classical reference place Ligurians "at home" in the Italian and French Riviera and there is no "other" mention of a homeland near Scotland. Pytheas (c330BC) whose account of his voyage is told by Strabo, links several of the names associated with the tin isles to modern France (Cabaeum - Brittany, a people called Ostimiois) and Strabo states these were part of Celtica (later located in France) rather than Iberia (Spain). Strabo then goes on to explicitly link the Celts to France:
The dominion of Narbonitis, whom the men of former times named 'Celtae'; and it was from the Celtae, I think that the Galatae [A people in France] as a whole were by the Greeks called 'Celti'.
This identification is confirmed by a text from Diodorus Siculus, and Oppenheimer goes on to say:
This apparently independent confirmation of Strabo's geographical identification of the Celtic heartland in the extreme south of France is very revealing.
Next we have Julius Caesar who conquered Gaul who being a military man would have been meticulous in his knowledge of who was related to who, so that he knew who would make alliance, which alliances were strong, where people lived so he knew how far they had to travel to support each other. You could not be a successful general without knowing geography and he says:
All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgae inhabit, the Aquitani another, those in their own language are called Celts, in our [latin] Gauls the third. All these differ from each other in language custom and laws. The river Garonne separates the Gauls from the Aquitani, the Marne and the Seine separate them from the Belgae.
Caesar defines a northern limit to the Celts at the Seine and Marne (which is much further south than the modern border of France) and excludes almost all the supposed origin in the central European homeland.
Having clearly defined the area in which Celts are recorded as existing in Classical times, Oppenheimer then goes to look at language. Inscriptions are found in southern France from the third century BC until the first century AD, initially in Greek script and later in Roman Script. Oppenheimer then says:
The place-name evidence for celtic language much east of the Rhine or in other part of Northern Europe is not convincing. A recent workshop was convened by linguists to establish just what proportion of European place-names on Ptolemy's famous map of the second century AD could be reliably identified as celtic. Several broad conclusions emerged. Numerically the centre of gravity and greatest diversity of forms for continental celtic place names were in France south of the Seine, Spain and northern Italy... there was a similar paucity of celtic place names in the southern Balkans, Romania and Hungary, to the south-east.
So Oppenheimer makes a very strong case that the "Celts" of central Europe were not Celts at all. However he implicitly makes the assumption that the Galls spoke p-Celtic meaning a language like Welsh, Cornish or Breton. Reading Wikipedia it would appear that this is extremely well supported and quite incontrovertible. They make it sound as if there is very little room for doubt describing all kinds of aspects of the language, so it is not surprising that Oppenheimer does not question it and assumes the "experts" are right. However, if you naturally like to see the evidence and go and look for the actual language (not what Wikipedia says is the language), you will find that the sum total of this "language" is are glossaries of about 160 worlds. And if as they assert quite "undeniably", the language is "p-celtic" almost all the words should be related to some words in Welsh. Right? WRONG!!
Examining the words reveals the following closest words:
Table with number of words in Gaulish Glossary
with following origins
|Irish (Old) (Q-Celtic)||60|
|Breton, Cornish Welsh
|Germanic (and English)||7|
Even if we take all the supposed "Celtic" words (greens), there are more words in Gaulish related to other languages "indo-European" languages. But "Welsh" (bright green) comes below Latin with a similar number to Germanic languages. In other words, "Gaulish" was about as closely related to Germanic languages as it was to Welsh. The other key point here is that even though Gaulish is supposed to be an ancient "Celtic" tongue, there are more words in Irish that bear a similarity to words in Gaulish. But why not Welsh if the two groups are so closely related? Surely when we go back this far, the two languages should start to merge? If there were one "Celtic" language in the past, then the further back we go, the closer they should merge together and therefore the closer an ancient "celtic" language should be to BOTH welsh and Irish.
Indeed, there is a whole other question about this "indo-European" idea. It all stems from the application of evolution to languages. The only problem is that whilst we inherit our genes from our parents, language is absorbed from our environment, and if that environment happens to have other languages in it, then some elements will be absorbed. So, the reality is that languages in close proximity and with lots of cultural connections, tend to merge together. Gaulish was right next to current "Breton" speaking parts. We would therefore expect some assimilation. This more or less proves that the Bretons were no nearer to Gaulish speaking areas than were Germanic peoples .... or about where they are right now!
And, remember this result is AFTER people would have looked first at welsh and Irish to find connections. So, they would tend to find the first closest words in those languages, so there is a tendency to overstate the level of closeness. But perhaps the real conclusion from this is that Irish was more closely related to languages on the continent than it was to Welsh. In other words Welsh and Irish are not closely related. And to whom do we have to go to find the "experts" who tell us that they are so closely related? To Welsh, Irish and Scottish Nationalists who have very clear reasons for suggesting a common bond. And to be frank, I suspect most of the "commonality" between Gaelic and Welsh comes from the proximity of these two groups and interchange of words.
And Oppenheimer reports on studies that show that the relationship between the "Celtic" languages is much poorer than within European languages. The figure quoted is that within the Romance and Germanic language groups languages shared about 50-70% common elements. Whereas there were only 30-35% of common elements in the "celtic" group. And here is the rub:
On this scale of percentage-shared-cognates, the deep 'celtic split' between Brythonic[Welsh] and Goidelic[Gaelic] is on the same scale as that between Lithuanian and Slavic languages or between the various Indic languages. What does this mean? In a relative sense, it is consistent with Schmidts' argument of a deep genetic split between Irish and Brythonic languages rather than McCone's (later) insular-celtic classification.
At the very least, "studies ... agree that the break up of individual 'Celtic' languages (i.e. Welsh and Gaelic) occurred roughly twice as long ago as the separation between each of the two big language groups (Romance and Germanic)
Or to put this in layman's terms: Irish and Welsh are no more closely related than Greek and Latin. And as for Gaulish - according to these studies it is even less related to the Welsh/Gaelic than almost any other "group".
Some Gauls in Britain
Caesar is the only person to mention any Gauls in Britan, but as these were the Belgie Gauls and not the Celtic Galls ... it doesn't really help the advocates of the Celtic Myth. However let us examine the two parts of the Gallic wars where these Belgiums in Britain are mentioned.
The interior portion of Britain is inhabited by those of whom they say that it is handed down by tradition that they were born in the island itself: the coastal portion by those who had passed over from the country of the Belgae for the purpose of plunder and making war; [Caesar Gallic War 5:12]
The Suessiones [a Belgic tribe] were their nearest neighbours and possessed a very extensive and fertile country; that among them, even in our own memory, Diviciacus, the most powerful man of all Gaul, had been king; who had held the government of a great part of these regions, and at that time also Britain; [Caesar Gallic War 2:4]
First they do not inhabit the whole island, but only the "coastal" regions. But bearing in mind Caesar was writing this from Gaul/France, the region to which we must refer is the southern coast of Britain, most likely towards Belgium or Kent. Also it is very clear that these are not indigenous people, nor have they been there long.
And there is evidence of such an intrusion into the SE of Britain around 100BC. This shows up in a change of runery rite from Nothing (presumed to be excarnation - leaving the body to the animals and birds) to one of cremation. We also find out artefacts related to an continental elite appearing just before the invasion of the Romans. So, we actually have good evidence for the presence of these Belgic Gauls, which tells us when and where they were present. And it was nowhere near Scotland, Wales or Ireland.
The druids they were a cross between civil servants, doctors, priests and judges. People trained as Druids were trained in Britain but worked in Gaul. For reasons which we all know people love to talk about Celts, stone-henge and druids. So, they all get mixed up into one generic nostalgic bag as if they were part of the same thing. They weren't. As for them having anything to do with welsh. Let's examine what people say the etymology is:
Druid (n.) ... from French druide, from Latin druidae (plural), from Gaulish Druides, from Old Celtic *derwijes, probably representing Old Celtic derwos "true" and *dru- "tree" (especially oak) + *wid- "to know" (cf. vision). Hence, literally, perhaps, "they who know the oak"
The proto-Celtic word may be *dru-wid-s (literally, "oak-knower"), from Proto-Indo-European *dóru (“tree”) and *weyd- (“to see”).
Both Irish druí and Welsh dryw could also refer to the wren, possibly connected with an association of that bird with augury bird in Irish and Welsh tradition (see also Wren Day).
And interesting discussion on this is here. What we actually have is a word that only appears in Welsh and Irish as the word meaning "Druid". Which people fabricate an ancestry for in "Old Celtic" by taking the word Druid, cutting it apart quite abitrarily to make two "words" dru-wid. And then they state as "underniable truth" that dru (written *dru to mean there is no evidence it ever existed) is the origin.
So, let me put that in layman's terms. They think that there may have been a word something like "Dru" in a language "Old Celtic" (we can be fairly certain is also made up) which they tell us meant "Tree". ...because in other languages (like German) there are similar words (i.e. tree) which start linguistically D is close to TH and TH is close to T. BULLSHITE!!
So, let me tell you where there is strong evidence for the origin of the word Druid. There are a host of related words related to magic in Anglo-saxon:
dry; magician sorcerer
drí-cræfteg: crafty with magic
But these words are also linguistically very similar to words related to "drying" which is what herbalists do to plant medicines:
drygan; To dry, make dry, rub dry, wipe
dryg-nes, -ness dryness
drugian: to dry up, wither
drigan, drygan, drigean; To DRY
druwian to become dry, withered
And these would give forms very similar to "Druid" such as: Druwad Druwath or Drugath and Drugad. Furthermore, I do not believe The similarity with modern "Drug" is a coincidence. Whilst the Oxford English Dictionary rules this out merely saying of "drug" - "origin unknown". It then goes on to suggest a link with and old Dutch word "droge" meaning "dry". But why look elsewhere when Anglo Saxon is rich with words very linguistically close to "Dru" which relate to dried herbal remedies
dros: sediment, lees, dregs.
drusian: to droop, become sluggish,
and there is even a word that could refer to the way druids organised society:
dryht: nation people Dryten: Ruler
Which brings to one last point: the picts. They spoke a language which was similar to Welsh. So did the Cumbrians. The picts were unknown until 297AD when they suddenly appear in history. There is no evidence for them before this date and anyone who tells you that there were Picts anywhere in Britain has no evidence to back them up. And in any case the stories of the Picts tell of a foreign origin (Scythia)
And finally the coop de grace: Genetic studies and archaeology have failed to reveal any of the necessary "ethnic cleansing' [welsh] speaking English which is a necessary prerequisite to explain the lack of Welsh speakers in Eastern Britain. So there is nothing to back up ideas that the "Celts" were oppressed by Anglo Saxon (i.e. English) invaders. And this view of history is backed up by Nennius who places the Welsh ...guess where? ... in Wales (and perhaps Cumbria).
The Celts were a people from Southern France. They are not linked to the Hallstatt and La Tene Culture which is supposed to be "Celtic". There is therefore nothing to link the supposed "insular" (meaning not the same) "Celtic" culture in Britain with the Celts. The Celtic language is not linked to Welsh. The Welsh and Irish Language are about as different as Greek and Latin. The welsh did not inhabit all Britain. The only reference to Gauls in Britain ties up with archaeological evidence in the SE of England around the 1st century BC ... and these were these were Belgic Gauls not Celtic Gauls. The only link between Britain and Gaul was the Druids ... and there is very strong evidence this is Germanic in origin not Welsh.There is no evidence that the Britons did not speak a Germanic language. And the Picts only appear in history after the bulk of the Roman period. And genetic studies & archaeology do not support the idea the English "ethnically cleansed" anyone from the parts of Britain where there are not Welsh and Irish Speakers.